Have I got a fish tale to tell you. Friday morning I got up around 7 and found our 14 year old goldfish at the bottom of the tank, his fins clamped close, his eyes cloudy, his tail ragged – all very bad omens for a fish. I turned his light on and sprinkled food in the water like I always do. The flakes swirled around him like snow but he didn’t move. Didn’t even twitch. In almost 15 years of life, this fish has always wiggled and splashed and opened his mouth wide to snatch at the food – it’s actually kind of cute the way he carries on. I knew something was seriously wrong. The fish is like me – it lives to eat.
I went to Google right away and of course everyone said the problem was dirty tank water. Goldfish eat a lot and excrete a lot, and ammonia builds up, and nitrites and nitrates. It’s what causes most goldfish to go belly up a few days after your daughter brings one home in a little plastic bag all excited crying, “Look what I won, Mommy, look what I won!” Which is how we ended up with this fish in 2005.
That tank is clean. To get the dirty water out, I siphon 25% of the tank into a bucket like some juvenile delinquent stealing gas from his neighbor’s car, and put fresh water in about every other day. The water is crystal clear and debris free. So Google said to use garlic water as a tonic. I smashed three cloves of garlic into hot water and let them infuse for about an hour, and put some peeled, frozen peas in there too. Goldfish love peas.
Meanwhile I sucked the water out again, even though I’d done a water change the day before, just in case. I reached my hand in with the siphon hose and the fish swam slowly away as I got closer, and moved faster when I bumped him a couple of times, which I thought was a good sign. After I strained the chunks out, I poured the garlic water into the tank, and he gobbled up one of the peas right away. A good omen. I figure as long as something will eat, it’ll be okay. The only side effect was the acrid smell of raw garlic wafting through the house.
You may think this is a lot of attention to give to an old fish that has cost me a fortune over the years in food, filters, gadgets, and medicine, and the many hours and much money I spent on the new tank and accessories and the new stand I made (click on https://www.gentlehumor.com/diy-projects-or-am-i-crazy/for my rant about that). You’d think putting the belly-up fish in an unmarked grave in the back yard would be a relief. But I would feel guilty for years. Did I change the water enough? Too much? Did I overfeed? Underfeed? What did I do wrong – the fish looked great yesterday, and now he’s all ragged and mangy looking. I knew I had to fix the fish or suffer the pangs of guilt.
Around 10am I got a call from my husband. “How’s that fish?” An odd question – he doesn’t even like the fish because the tank bubbles all the time in the background while he’s trying to watch TV.
I said, “He’s really sick.”
“I found him on the tile this morning,” he said.
“The tile floor. In the entryway.”
“The fish was on the floor?”
“Yeah when I was leaving about 5:45 this morning, I walked in and saw something on the floor. I thought ‘what the heck is that?’ Luckily the light was on or I probably wouldn’t have seen him.”
“He jumped out of the tank?”
“Yeah he jumped out of the tank. I went over to see what was on the floor and bent down and saw the dead fish. It was as dry as a bone. So I got the dustpan and scooped it up to throw it in the garbage, and its tail moved. ‘Damn,’ I thought – I was happy to see him go. I carried him in the dustpan over to the tank, picked him up by the tail and lowered him into the water. I lifted him up and down a few times until his gills started moving, then I let go. He sunk to the bottom and just sat there, but he was alive when I left for work.”
“That fish jumped out of the tank and shimmied three feet over the carpet and ended up on the tile?”
“Yeah, and there was a little blood under him too, from the gills. I wouldn’t have even seen him if the light wasn’t on.”
“Well, the dog was squirming in bed at 4:30 so I let her out, fed her and left her with the light on in the living room and went back to bed.”
“Well, it’s a good thing, because I probably wouldn’t have seen that fish.”
After I hung up, my feelings went from relief that it wasn’t my neglect, to pity for the poor fish hitting the hard floor and flopping around for who knows how long, to irritation. Stupid fish. He had to be lined up just perfectly in order to get out of the small opening I leave in the lid so he can get plenty of oxygen.
Here’s what I think happened. Lots of trees grow around our one-level house. Branches fall all the time and they sound like someone dropped an anvil on the roof, and for the last couple of days an east wind has been howling. I’d cleaned the fish’s filters and put in fresh water the day before, so the water was very high. That fish has always been extremely skittish. I think a big limb dropped and made a boom when he was in the perfect position, and because of the higher water, he flinched himself right out of the tank. Then he flopped three feet across the carpet to the tile floor, which explains why he was so dry, and then he was just about dead when my husband found him.
That evening when Scott came home from work we had a few laughs about the fish, and marveled at the coincidences that caused his life to be saved. If our 19 year old dog had slept in, the light would have been off and he might have even stepped on the fish and slid across the tile like he’d stepped on a banana peel. Or if he had left for work a few minutes earlier or later, the fish would be dead. After we’d explored all the scenarios that could have happened, he said, “Somebody around here is cooking something. Can’t you smell that? It’s making me hungry.”
“It’s the garlic,” I said, and explained about the tonic. He’s used to the “natural” remedies I’ve always used on our kids and pets, so he just shook his head and laughed.
PS: It’s been 48 hours and the fish is still alive – though he looks pretty ragged, but his appetite is as robust as ever. Always a good sign.
This fish tale is my Happy Mother’s Day present to all of you Mothers of both children and pets. Bless you all!